Okay, so you’ve convinced some of your non-gaming friends to give this “roleplaying thing” a try. Now you’re left with the question of how to run a game for brand-new players? This can be especially tricky when you’ve been gaming so long you can’t remember what it was like to be brand new yourself. Below are some guidelines to help you introduce new player to role-playing in general.
Do the planning for them
New players are often overwhelmed just from looking at the character sheet. Are they expected to understand all those numbers? What’s the difference between abilities and skills and attributes anyway? And how are they supposed to actually use this stuff that’s on there?
Consider using pre-generated character for brand-new players. Introduce them to one aspect of the game at a time. Let them get a handle on using skills and engaging in combat before you force them to think about a character idea and how to effectively combine the bizillion choices (so it can seem to new players) of powers and abilities. By using pre-generated characters, you make a lot of overwhelming decisions for them. They don’t have to worry about choosing the most effective skills, powers, spells or weapons, because you’ve already done that for them.
When your introducing brand-new players who’ve never role-played at all (as opposed to experienced players trying a new system), think carefully about what game system to use. This isn’t a good time for you try out a system for the first time. Pick something you’re very familiar with so you don’t have use up valuable play time looking up answers. Plus, if you need to look up everything, you’ll make the game look much more complicated than it actually is.
When you use a system you’re very comfortable, you give the impression of “See, this isn’t so hard. I don’t even have to look up the rules, it’s that easy.” It makes the system seem much more accessible and player-friendly. Your familiarity with a system is much more important than how “easy” it is to play. Pretty much any system will work if you, as the GM, can handle most of the mechanics for the players. (I’d still think twice before using Rolemaster, though.)
Limit choices, but make sure you give them
If you’ve had toddlers, you know how effective and empowering it is to let them choose from a limited and predetermined selection of choices. Do you want to wear the green pants or the blue skirt? The same goes for new players. Do you want to use a healing potion or have the cleric use his last spell?
But you still definitely want to give the new players choices. Choices are the corner stone of gaming and new players don’t want to be railroaded any more than experienced players do. What makes a game satisfying is knowing that you brought about the outcome by your own actions.
Too many choices can be very overwhelming. I’m convinced fewer choices was part of the reason for the great success of the original D&D and what made it more popular than, say, Traveller.
Travaller was an open-ended character system. Sure, you chose a branch of service and you rolled randomly for skills (so you didn’t have to choose them), but you still had to create your own role in the party and in the game world. It was entirely up to you to define your place in the universe. Great for an experienced player with a strong character concept and goals. But if you’d never played an RPG before, you really didn’t know what kinds of things your character could do.
The original (A)D&D took care of a lot of that. You had a very limited number of classes, each with a very distinct role to play in the party. Fighters fought, magic-users cast spells to support the fighters, clerics healed people and thieves disarmed traps and opened locks. Each class had a built-in purpose that made it very accessible to brand-new players and which worked really, really well when the whole hobby was new.
Don’t been afraid to make suggestions. Most brand-new players will be grateful for the advice, especially if you explain the reasoning behind your suggestions. Just remember that players are free to chose something other than your suggested option. That’s part of the learning experience. Don’t make them feel stupid or wrong because they made an ineffective choice. If one of their choices doesn’t work, explain afterwards why it wasn’t the most effective solution. But never phrase it as a mistake or a wrong decision. Instead, use language like “less effective.”
Take it slowly
Plan a short adventure. While you may consider a mission to stop an ogre from carrying off the livestock of a town to be an exciting adventure, remember that new players have never done this before. They’re not going to feel cheated that the ogre’s lair is nothing more than a three-room abandoned farm house.While a small adventure looks on paper like it wouldn’t fill an entire play session, remember that you’ll be stopping frequently to answer questions and give explanations.
Give out information as the players need it
Don’t try to explain the entire character at the beginning of the adventure. You’ll just overwhelm new players and they won’t remember it anyway, since they have nothing to relate it to. Instead, explain each piece at the point where they need to use it. Explain initiative as the PCs are getting ready for combat. Explain picking locks right when your party encounters that first chest. Because they immediately put that information to use, they’ll remember it better the next time they need to use it.
Make learning the goal
Don’t get hung up on finishing the adventure. Your goal for this session should be on teaching the game, not on accomplishing the mission. Sure, your players are going to feel great if they save the day, but it’s much more important that they enjoy themselves, since that’s what will cause them to come back for more.
This is an excerpt from the GM’s Field Guide to Players, the up-coming book from rpgGM.com, due to be released this fall. For more detailed information about running teaching games <blatent self-promotion>How to Run a Fantastic Convention Game has a lot of good information about running games for first-time players. Sign up for my monthly newsletter (in the sidebar to the right) and get it free.</blatent self-promotion>
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